Depth of Field

Depth of Field Butterfly

For this blog I thought I would say a few words about how to control an image’s depth of field. In other words how much of the photograph appears to be in sharp focus. This is a really important skill to master because it opens up so many creative possibilities.



Lens choice will affect the depth of field of your photograph.(wide angled lenses produce a larger D.o.F than telephoto lenses)



The aperture selected will also affect the image’s depth of field. The larger the aperture, the smaller the D.o.F. For example, F2.8 will result in a much shallower D.o.F than F32 which is a smaller aperture . An easy way to remember this is that a large F number results in a large D.o.F and a small F number results in a small D.o.F.



The third thing to affect depth of field is where you focus within the image. The further away you focus, the greater the D.o.F. Although, if you focus too far into the image, elements within the foreground (front of the image) may start to lose focus. It is a good idea to experiment with different points of focus from the same viewpoint and access how they affect the image’s D.o.F. You can do this by either accessing the image on your camera’s monitor (if digital) or by using the D.o.F preview button on your camera. For maximum D.o.F for a given aperture, focus a third of the way into the scene. This will keep the foreground in focus as well as giving maximum sharpness to the background. (The amount of the image in apparent focus extends a third of the way in front of the focus point and two thirds behind it.)

Gaining maximum depth of field by focusing a third of the way into a scene is a good starting technique. It will serve you well for the majority of situations. However when D.o.F is really critical (ie when you have a foreground object that’s really close to the camera that you want to keep in sharp focus as well as some far away background detail) a more accurate technique may be required. Using a D.o.F scale and hyper focal focusing is a very precise way of ensuring maximum D.o.F at any given aperture. I cover this technique in my advanced photography course.



There is only one point of the image that is complete focus. Apparent focus is the area of the image that also appears to be in perfect focus. In reality this area is not in perfect focus but it is so slightly out-of-focus that the human eye cannot distinguish between the two.



Lastly, how close the camera is to the subject will have a bearing on the depth of field. The closer the camera is to the subject, the shallower the D.o.F will be. That is why when macro (extreme close-up) images are taken the D.o.F may only be a few millimetres.

By controlling all four of these variables you will have complete control over the D.o.F of the photograph you are taking.